After almost three weeks in Butare, we were ready for a little getaway. Last Wednesday we planned a trip to Nyungwe National Park for a day of hiking. We decided we would go the very next day. We asked Pascal to look up buses that we could take to the park and he found a bus that left from Butare Thursday morning sometime between 5:50 am and 6:50 am and a bus that could bring us back at 4 pm. No one wanted us to go to Nyungwe alone. Pascal offered to go with us. Abdou insisted that we should not go by ourselves. Over dinner at Shekina (of course), Hyacinthe tried to explain where we needed to go to catch our morning bus and after much confusion he insisted that he would accompany us in the morning. Despite the odds stacked against us, we insisted that we could make it on our own.
The next morning, we woke up at five am to get ready for a full day of hiking only to find out from Pascal that the bus had left from Kigali a little late and so would not arrive until 6:50. We took our time to get ready and left just after six to find our bus. We had been told the night before that the bus would come and pick us up at a gas station a 10-minute walk away. Some how we had no problem finding the tiny ticket office for Sopra Tour buses in the gas station and the man selling the tickets was waiting for us. Pascal had reserved our tickets both ways to make sure we got the correct tickets. Pascal was so unsure that we would be able to make it by ourselves that he even came by the gas station to make sure we got the right bus. Luckily we did get the right bus and it was only ten minutes late (!).
While getting the bus went smoothly, the bus ride itself was anything but smooth. The bus drove us up and down many of Rwanda’s thousand hills on rocky roads with some of the largest potholes I have seen. Molly even had a broken seat throughout our two-hour drive through windy, bumpy roads. After a couple hours the bus stopped and the driver and everyone in the bus turned and stared us down. Our indication that we had finally reached our stop. The bus left us on the side of the road on a mountain next to a sign that said Nyungwe National Park Visitor’s center with no visitor’s center in sight. After we took a pause to laugh at our predicament and watch us bus drive away leaving us here alone for the next seven hours, we drank some water and went in search of the visitor’s center to begin our hike in time to finish before the last bus back to Butare left.
Once we arrived at the visitor’s center and paid for our tour, we realized that the trail we wanted to take, the red trail, was the longest and most difficult hike offered in the park. It would take between three and six hours to complete and was qualified as difficult, but we would see FOUR waterfalls! After we were introduced to Innocent, our tour guide, and given our walking sticks, we set off to begin our tour.
The hike started off fairly easily and Innocent pointed out some flora on the way. After half an hour I had probably tripped over sticks and rocks on the path around 10 times and the hike turned into a very steep downhill and I was sure that I was about to fall to my death into the running water below. We saw all four waterfalls in the first two hours of the hike and then started the steep uphill part of the hike. Our tour guide told us after the fourth waterfall that the next part of the hike was the part where we climb the mountain and it would take an hour for a very fit person to complete and almost two hours for an unfit person (me) to complete. The rest of the hike was quite the struggle for me. After half an hour of climbing, Innocent, who had yet to even show a drop of sweat despite his thick sweater, offered to carry my backpack for me. After he started carrying my backpack the hike became a lot easier but still the kind of challenge that I had never yet had. When they labeled the trail as difficult I was not ready for a hike of either a sharp decline or a steep incline at all times. Near the very end of our hike, though we had yet to see any of the park’s 13 primate species, we saw the largest worms any of us had ever seen. They were possibly the most disgusting creatures I had ever encountered. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally reached the end of the trail and met the main road.
Once we reached the end of our hike, 4.5 hours later (!), and got to sit down at the visitor’s center until our bus arrived, we finally saw some monkeys! Monkeys came out of the trees to steal banana peels from the trash and bread from the other guests. The two women who had their bread stolen by a monkey quickly realized that screaming at the monkeys in German kept them away. Apparently loud German has the ability to induce fear in all species. At 3:30 we left the visitor’s center to go sit on the side of the highway and wait for us bus to ensure we didn’t miss the last bus and get ourselves stranded in the forest. As 4 pm loomed we flagged down every Sopra bus that was going in the direction of Butare until finally our bus arrived and the driver laughed at us jumping up and down, waving our tickets; he said he was already looking for us. Pascal had, thankfully, probably made sure the bus company told the driver to look out for five umuzungu on the side of the road. Every single person on that bus stared at us for the first few minutes of the ride and we couldn’t seem to stop laughing; somehow we got ourselves all the way back to Butare in time to wash up before dinner at Shekina.